Word of the day – brachiate

Lar Gibbon

brachiate, adjective = having widely divergent paired branches; verb = to swing by the arms from one hold to the next

Origin: from Latin bracchiātus – with armlike branches.

Here’s another interesting word from Richard Dawkins’ “The Ancestor’s Tale” – he mentions it while discussion the astounding acrobatic abilities of gibbons, and speculating whether our evolutionary ancestors were brachiators.

Related words
brachium, noun = arm or wing. From Latin bracchium – arm, from Greek βραχίον (brakhiōn) – arm
brachial, adjective = of or relating to the arm or am armlike structure
brace, noun = something that steadies, binds, or holds up something else
braces (UK) = suspenders (US)
bracer, noun = a leather guard worn to protect the arm in archery and fencing

It’s also interesting to see how the Latin word bracchium has changed in Latin’s daughter languages:

Italian – braccio
Spanish – brazo
Portuguese – braço
Catalan – braç
French – bras
Romanian – braţ
Rumantsch – bratsch

The Welsh word for arm, braich, also appears to come from the same root.

The English word arm comes from Old English, and is related to the German Arm, Old Norse armr (arm), Latin armus (shoulder) and Greek harmos (joint).

This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

8 Responses to Word of the day – brachiate

  1. Thomas Maska says:

    And perhaps a brachiosaurus (if you haven’t seen Jurassic Park, it’s a big one with a long neck) get’s it’s name from this root also? : )

  2. Joseph Staleknight says:

    Funny to see how “bracchiate” and “brace” are related.

    Or not.

  3. Simon says:

    Thomas – brachiosaurus does indeed come from the same root.

  4. Jimmy says:

    Talking of English here is a question- are English and Scots the only European languages (including if you transliterated languages like Russian and Greek into the Latin alphabets) to use all 26 letters of the alphabet i.e. A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z ? That doesn’t include languages which have the same letters in digraphs and with accents on the top or bottom of them e.g. the circumflex or acute accents, as obviously other languages in Europe have larger alphabets.

  5. Jake says:

    There are some other letters-Æ, Ð, Þ, ß, Ŋ, Œ, and Ə, for example, but I agree that we may have the largest version of the Latin Alphabet without modifiers.

  6. Thomas Maska says:

    Aren’t ‘modifiers’ true letters in their ow regard? Lok at the Anglo Saxon alphabet. The Original English alphabet has Thorn þ and Eth ð. Also, J is a modifier if you think about it, (of I) and it is not present in Old English. The version of the Latin alphabet tht we use today is no more or less complete than amy other. (I think that Icelandic is as close as it gets to OE, but I am not sure). As far as the alphabet goes, the Romans would have been using the only true, unmodified version of it, and if you want to consider the language that we use it to write, perhaps, only the old Anglo Saxons would qualifiy. Am I wrong?

  7. Thomas Maska says:

    I am just full of typos today.

  8. The Western alphabet is labelled as ‘Latin’, and since ancient Romans apparently did well without some of its letters, not only J but also U and W could be technically listed as modifiers, repectively of I and (the last two) of V.

    In Italian J is called a ‘long I’ (i.e. what it actually looks like!), and its sound is basically the same as I and Y, although it was indeed considered a modified I, not counted as a letter of its own, while Y was dropped a much longer time ago, because redundant. By the way, to Italians Y is a ‘Greek I’.
    Up to about 60-70 years ago, J was still regularly used in spelling diphthongs formed by I + another vowel, e.g. giojello (“jewel”), jodio (“iodine”), etc. etc., to remark that the I (i.e. J) belonged to a diphthong, and therefore formed a syllabic cluster with the following vowel. Today J only survives in some surnames, which maintain their old spelling.

    As for U and W, Latinists and linguists still debate on whether in ancient times V was always pronounced as U, or its sound switched from U to V according to phonetic rules, which may have very likely differred from province to province of the Roman empire (also according to the sounds the native populations were acquainted with) and, later, from country to country.
    The Italian name for W is ‘double V’ (not ‘double U’ as in English). Probably this choice was not only due to its shape, but also to its sound, likely being W a heritage left by the Saxons (somebody who knows more about Saxon language , please help!).
    Today Italians still commonly pronounce J and W respectively as I and V, although in a large number of foreign and loan words this sound is incorrect (with the exception of words of German origin).

    Lastly, we can discuss whether a modified letter should be really considered as a letter of its own, considering that:
    1) if a letter is modified, it is because it should indicate a different sound from its plain form;
    2) if a modifier is needed in one language (i.e. Czech Š for expressing the “sh” sound), in other languages the plain letter may have the same sound naturally (e.g. in Hungarian), or the sound may be obtained by means of a different plain letter (e.g. X in Catalan), or by clusters of plain letters (e.g. SC+vowel in Italian; SCH in German; SH in English, etc.);
    3) given a plain letter, the difference between the same letter with a modifying sign added to it and a completely independent one cannot be merely the degree of sound similarity, otherwise Z could be considered a modified S (or vice-versa), D a modified T, B a modified P, etc. etc.

%d bloggers like this: